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Celtics suffer consequences of Kyrie Irving’s broken pledge

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Celtics 2019 offseason ended in October 2018.

Then, it began a short time later.

After a backward year in Boston, the dust has settled. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are gone. Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter are there.

The Celtics will be fine. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown return and should keep growing. The major holes are filled.

But the busy summer leaves Boston with a much lower ceiling.

It was never supposed to be like this.

Before last season, Kyrie Irving vowed to re-sign. This wasn’t just an impulsive moment at a pep rally. Irving made a whole commercial about the Celtics retiring his number.

Boston looked like an emerging power – the Warriors’ most-likely successor, maybe as soon as last season. The Celtics were talented, young and deep. Irving’s commitment seemed to answer one of the few questions facing the team.

Instead, Boston unraveled. Irving and other Celtics repeatedly found problems with each other. Everyone seemed miserable. A disappointing second-round loss was almost a relief. At least it was over.

In what was once supposed to be a simple offseason for Boston, Irving bolted for the Nets. Horford followed through the exit, to the 76ers. The Celtics replaced those two with Walker and Kanter via free agency.

Irving is better and younger than Walker. Particularly, Irving has proven his deep-playoff bona fides. Though Walker didn’t get those opportunities with the mediocre Hornets, the smaller guard probably can’t step up against tighter defenses the same way.

Kanter is good at what he does inside. But good teams can expose him defensively.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Boston matched its 49 wins from last season. The Celtics’ chemistry should improve significantly, and they’ll play hard in the regular season. But there’s a long way to getting back on the championship-contention path.

Boston will even face challenges with smaller short-term goals. The Celtics lost a couple solid role players in Marcus Morris (signed with Knicks) and Aron Baynes (traded to Suns). Boston also sent Terry Rozier to the Hornets in a double sign-and-trade for Walker. Though Rozier didn’t help the Celtics much last season, they still essentially got nil for a player with some value.*

*Boston had enough cap space to sign Walker outright. Charlotte needed a sign-and-trade to add Rozier.

The Celtics maintained and replenished frontcourt depth with Daniel Theis ($5 million guaranteed this season, $5 million unguaranteed the following season) and Vincent Poirier (two years, $5,125,000).

Boston did well to leave draft night with No. 14 pick Romeo Langford, No. 22 pick Grant Williams, No. 33 pick Carsen Edwards, No. 51 pick Tremont Waters, a future Bucks first-rounder (from Phoenix) and Baynes unloaded. The Celtics also signed undrafted Tacko Fall, whose 7-foot-6 frame at least draws intrigue.

Maybe one of those rookies blossoms. Maybe Gordon Hayward gets back in a groove as he gains distance from his injury. Maybe a future first-rounder from the Grizzlies lands high in a lottery.

There are ways for Boston to build a title contender.

But that seems far more distant than when the Celtics were envisioning an Irving-Anthony Davis pairing. It seems more distant than even when Boston was hoping to keep Horford.

Many teams would love to settle for Walker and Kanter, but the Celtics were in such great shape. They definitely had to settle. Where I’m from, that’s no Plan A.

Offseason grade: C-

LeBron James on Lakers clinching No. 1 seed: ‘They said I couldn’t do it’

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

LeBron James, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

“They said I couldn’t do it.”

“I’ll enjoy this one,” James said, nodding as he grinned. “They said I can’t do it.”

The Lakers entered the season fifth in the West in over-under wins (behind the Rockets, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets).

But nobody credible thought the Lakers couldn’t get the No. 1 seed. With LeBron and Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously had that type of upside. Their championship odds were far more favorable. The main doubts stemmed from how seriously LeBron would take the regular season.

That said, in the age of social media, players hear both more praise and more criticism than ever before. LeBron surely heard from haters who ruled him out. Crowning himself the Washed King, LeBron probably internalized that fringe opinion.

Many players find slights to use as motivation. It worked for Michael Jordan. It works for LeBron.

But it does sound silly when an exalted player like LeBron talks this way.

Report: Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers owner Herb Simon and executives Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird, and Kevin Pritchard
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Paul George said he left the Pacers because they weren’t willing to spend enough.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president in 2017, citing a desire to do more things outside basketball. Yet, he also reportedly had another reason.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Indiana is a small-market team that consistently has not gone out and paid big money. We know that this was something that frustrated Larry Bird, who is a legend in the state of Indiana and elsewhere, I might add. It frustrated him enough that he stepped aside.

Pacers owner Herb Simon has a certain way of doing things. Indiana hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2006, the first year the tax line was set before the season.

Despite that, the Pacers have been pretty good. They’ve qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons, peaking with appearances in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

Still, Indiana has lost in the first round four straight years. Another first-round loss appears the most likely outcome for this season.

That’s not exactly satisfying for players who want to win championships. Spending big isn’t absolutely necessary to compete on the highest levels. But it helps.

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency. He’s a competitor who’ll evaluate, among other things, whether his current franchise matches his ambitions.

It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Simon can decide his own limits. But there are consequences of his spending restraint – especially as perception grows about his relative thriftiness.

J.J. Redick describes thought behind meme: ‘I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing’

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J.J. Redick has made the playoffs all 13 of his previous NBA seasons.

The Pelicans have put that streak in jeopardy.

New Orleans lost its first two games in the bubble, a nail-biter against the Jazz and a rout against the Clippers. During that loss to L.A., cameras captured Redick – on the floor exercising his back while out of the game – with a distant stare that became an instant meme.

Redick on ESPN Daily:

I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing, and I think my face summed up that first half pretty well.

There’s so many circumstances you could apply the emotions that I was going through in that moment.

Redick is right: That meme fits many occasions, which gives it staying power.

However, it has plenty of competition. Though the feelings displayed aren’t the exact same, Redick didn’t even have the best reaction inside the bubble by an exasperated NBA player. That belongs to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic:

At least Redick got reason to perk up. The Pelicans beat the Grizzlies yesterday to gain ground in the playoff race.

Darren Collison says talk of him playing for Lakers was “overhyped”

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Darren Collison shocked the NBA last summer when he walked away from the game at age 32 — and a likely contract in the four-year, $70+ million range — and retired. His reasons were legitimate, he wanted to focus on his religion — “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith,” Collison said at the time — but the league has seen a lot of players say they were walking away for good reasons only to come running back.

The rumors about a Collison return started just after January 1 and spun out of control in Los Angeles when he sat with Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss at a game.

Collison stayed retired, and told the “Minute til 6” podcast it wasn’t even close. He was never coming back.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing. Like, I wasn’t even thinking about coming back.”

That game he went to? He just came to watch his friend Russell Westbrook.

“I just wanted to come watch the game as a fan.”

Collison also is smart enough to know how him sitting with Buss would be perceived.

Collison was wanted. The Lakers run LeBron James at the point but could have used the veteran Collison in the role Rajon Rondo filled as a secondary playmaker (Rondo is currently out with a thumb injury). Collison was rumored to the Clippers as well, and Doc Rivers can always find a way to use more guard depth.

Collison, however, seems at peace with his decision. If he wanted to return, he would have done it last summer for 10 figures a season, not for the minimum in January.